Language Evolution Over Time (New Words; Inter-Era Intelligibility; Etc.)

ramonmercado

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How new words become part of a language

09:00 16 October 2005

NewScientist.com news service
Mark Buchanan

When unwanted email first came along, people invented different words for it, such as unsolicited email and junk email. But eventually "spam" became the word of choice to describe the phenomenon.

It's a process that happens each time a new thing needs a name, but language researchers have struggled to model how it happens without a central decision maker. Now a computer model shows the process at work - and may give insights into how the first human languages emerged.

Luc Steels of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris in France and his colleagues studied the "naming game", a simple computer model that reflects how people invent words and use them. In the game, a group of "agents" live in a virtual environment with a number of "objects". Each agent makes up random names for the objects, and the agents then interact in pairs, trying to "talk" about those objects.

Name game
In each interaction, one agent (the speaker) says its word for an object, while the second agent (the hearer) listens. If the hearer fails to recognise the word, it memorises it as a possible name for the object. But if the hearer understands the word, both agents retain this word in memory and ditch any others they have made up or heard.

Repeated over and over again, this process reflects how people invent and share new words for objects: they constantly invent new words, yet can only use ones that others understand, so it keeps a lid on the number of words in use.

The simulations showed that this is enough for the emergence of a unique shared vocabulary. In the model, each object always ends up being described by just one word (www.arxiv.org/physics/0509075). "The model is as simple as possible," says Steels. "But it captures the main ingredients of how a population develops an efficient communication system."

Evolving grammar
So could a similar process have helped the historical emergence of human languages? "Absolutely," says linguist James Hurford of the University of Edinburgh, UK. But he emphasises that in addition to common words, human language also requires richer structures such as grammar, the emergence of which the model cannot yet explain.

Repeated over and over again, the process reflects how people invent and share new words for objects

While Steels and colleagues hope to develop more complex models capable of evolving grammar, they already see potential applications in computing. For instance, programmers currently have to establish standards to get commercial or scientific databases to communicate effectively. It may soon be possible to get computers to talk to one another by letting them evolve a common language on their own.

newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8163
Link is dead. The MIA webpage (quoted in full above) can be accessed via the Wayback Machine:
https://web.archive.org/web/20051102020005/http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8163


Related Articles
Structure exposes the evolutionary roots of languages
newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8040
https://web.archive.org/web/20051029030822/http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8040

22 September 2005
 
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ramonmercado

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And how language sounds evolve. Farmers involved.

Don't like the F-word? Blame farmers and soft food.

When humans switched to processed foods after the spread of agriculture, they put less wear and tear on their teeth. That changed the growth of their jaws, giving adults the overbites normal in children. Within a few thousand years, those slight overbites made it easy for people in farming cultures to fire off sounds like "f" and "v," opening a world of new words.

The newly favored consonants, known as labiodentals, helped spur the diversification of languages in Europe and Asia at least 4000 years ago; they led to such changes as the replacement of the Latin patēr to Old English faeder about 1500 years ago, according to linguist and senior author Balthasar Bickel at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The paper shows "that a cultural shift can change our biology in such a way that it affects our language," says evolutionary morphologist Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, who was not part of the study. ...

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/201...ly_2019-03-14&et_rid=394299689&et_cid=2715844
 
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James_H

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And how language sounds evolve. Farmers involved.

Don't like the F-word? Blame farmers and soft food.

When humans switched to processed foods after the spread of agriculture, they put less wear and tear on their teeth. That changed the growth of their jaws, giving adults the overbites normal in children. Within a few thousand years, those slight overbites made it easy for people in farming cultures to fire off sounds like "f" and "v," opening a world of new words.

The newly favored consonants, known as labiodentals, helped spur the diversification of languages in Europe and Asia at least 4000 years ago; they led to such changes as the replacement of the Latin patēr to Old English faeder about 1500 years ago, according to linguist and senior author Balthasar Bickel at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The paper shows "that a cultural shift can change our biology in such a way that it affects our language," says evolutionary morphologist Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, who was not part of the study.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/201...ly_2019-03-14&et_rid=394299689&et_cid=2715844
Though it's published in a reputable journal, I don't believe it for a minute. I'd be interested to see how it pans out though, and I'm happy to be surprised.
 

Trevp666

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Very interesting piece here. Not sure if this is the best thread to put it in but here you go.
Contains 'bonus facts' towards the end!
Enjoy.
"How Far Back in Time Could an English Speaker Go and Still Communicate Effectively?"
 

Mythopoeika

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Very interesting piece here. Not sure if this is the best thread to put it in but here you go.
Contains 'bonus facts' towards the end!
Enjoy.
"How Far Back in Time Could an English Speaker Go and Still Communicate Effectively?"
My guess, without watching it, is probably the 14th century.
 

Trevp666

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Also without watching i reckon about the 16th century and even then it would sound like you were trapped in remote rural Norfolk. Maybe i should watch it.......
Yep you're fairly close.
Pretty much any earlier than the mid-1600s you'd be struggling.
And that's just the spoken language. The written stuff is much later.
 

Trevp666

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I would expect that in countries other than England the dates would be much later in some cases, and much earlier in others.
If you know Latin I expect you could fairly easily go back many centuries in Roman occupied areas.
 

Mikefule

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<<"How Far Back in Time Could an English Speaker Go and Still Communicate Effectively?">>

200 years ago. I am a keen reader of Jane Austen, whose main output was published between 1811 and 1818, so just over 200 years ago. If I had a conversation with Austen, we would both have to concentrate and make allowances for differences of syntax and vocabulary, but I'm sure we would succeed.

535 years ago. A long time ago, I read Le Morte d'Arthur, a modern printed edition, but with the original spellings and vocabulary. The first edition was published in 1485, so that's late 15th century. Large parts of it were comprehensible to me with no special knowledge of old English, although I sometimes had to rely on the modern footnotes.

The language was recognisably English.

However, add to that someone speaking at normal conversational speed, with the rhythm and accent of the time, and I doubt I could have held an intelligible conversation with Sir Thomas Malory who wrote it.

About 600 years ago. Chaucer died in 1400, so his writings were late 14th century. Some of his work is covered in the English A level syllabus. It is mainly intelligible as the written word. However, the rhythm of speech was very different, with an unfamiliar emphasis on the final syllable. ("Jumped" would be promounced "Jump-ed" or even "jump-ed-a" for example.) If I tried to have a conversation with Geoffrey Chaucer, it would be like speaking to a complete foreigner, requiring repetition of words, simplified syntax, mime, and a considerable degree of patience on each side.

About 1,000 years ago. The original manuscript of Beowulf was produced between 975 and 1025, so roughly a thousand years ago. I have a paperback version which purports to be a "modern translation" but even so it takes considerable effort to wade through. This is partly because of the verse form, but partly because many of the the writer's assumptions about God, the truth of the bible, and so on, are so alien that even when the language is simple, the communication is sometimes unclear.

Much more recently. My musical passion is the rockabilly music of the 1950s. From time to time, I will look up lyrics on line if they are unclear on the recording or if there is more than one version. I sometimes find some absolute howlers where modern people have tried to write down what they think they are hearing. This is because even 70 years ago, daily life was different, slang was different, and the way of expressing things generally was different.

Language is more than an assemblage of words, syntax and accent. Language is about communication. Communication is about sharing ideas, and the ideas themselves have changed so much, and will continue to do so.

The further you go back in time, the harder communication becomes, not just because things sound different (like a Geordie, a Cornishman, and a Cockney having a chat today) but because we may see the world fundamentally differently.
 
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Trevp666

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You don't even have to go very far back though - just 5 minutes ago I saw two teenagers walking past, in conversation with each other, and they were recognisably using English, but lord knows what they were saying.
 

catseye

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I'd say it depends on what you want to communicate - quite complex random concepts? Or communicate the fact that one is in pain, in love, family relationships etc? Because we are all human and have the same base concepts to go on, I'm fairly sure that I could go right back to the Neolithic and manage to get over 'I feel ill' or 'this is my son'. So maybe not sentences but isolated words. And probably some mime.
 

Trevp666

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I reckon I could communicate the fact that I was trying to pull myself along a rope on a windy day, or that I was stuck behind a pane of glass, using mime. But not much else.
 

Nosmo King

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<<"How Far Back in Time Could an English Speaker Go and Still Communicate Effectively?">>

200 years ago. I am a keen reader of Jane Austen, whose main output was published between 1811 and 1818, so just over 200 years ago. If I had a conversation with Austen, we would both have to concentrate and make allowances for differences of syntax and vocabularly, but I'm sure we would succeed.

535 years ago. A long time ago, I read Le Morte d'Arthur, a modern printed edition, but with the original spellings and vocabulary. The first edition was published in 1485, so that's late 15th century. Large parts of it were comprehensible to me with no special knowledge of old English, although I sometimes had to rely on the modern footnotes.

The language was recognisably English.

However, add to that someone speaking at normal conversational speed, with the rhythm and accent of the time, and I doubt I could have held an intelligible conversation with Sir Thomas Malory who wrote it.

About 600 years ago. Chaucer died in 1400, so his writings were late 14th century. Some of his work is covered in the English A level syllabus. It is mainly intelligible as the written word. However, the rhythm of speech was very different, with an unfamiliar emphasis on the final syllable. ("Jumped" would be promounced "Jump-ed" or even "jump-ed-a" for example.) If I tried to have a conversation with Geoffrey Chaucer, it would be like speaking to a complete foreigner, requiring repetition of words, simplified syntax, mime, and a considerable degree of patience on each side.

About 1,000 years ago. The original manuscript of Beowulf was produced between 975 and 1025, so roughly a thousand years ago. I have a paperback version which purports to be a "modern translation" but even so it takes considerable effort to wade through. This is partly because of the verse form, but partly because many of the the writer's assumptions about God, the truth of the bible, and so on, are so alien that even when the language is simple, the communication is sometimes unclear.

Much more recently. My musical passion is the rockabilly music of the 1950s. From time to time, I will look up lyrics on line if they are unclear on the recording or if there is more than one version. I sometimes find some absolute howlers where modern people have tried to write down what they think they are hearing. This is because even 70 years ago, daily life was different, slang was different, and the way of expressing things generally was different.

Language is more than an assemblage of words, syntax and accent. Language is about communication. Communication is about sharing ideas, and the ideas themselves have changed so much, and will continue to do so.

The further you go back in time, the harder communication becomes, not just because things sound different (like a Geordie, a Cornishman, and a Cockney having a chat today) but because we may see the world fundamentally differently.
At certain points, i had to read passages of text more than once, when i read 'Trainspotting' by Irving Welsh, in the end i resorted to reading it with a Glasweigian accent in my head, which helped a lot.
Also i had to have a dictionary on hand when i read 'Great Apes' by Will Self.

Both great books btw.
 

GNC

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At certain points, i had to read passages of text more than once, when i read 'Trainspotting' by Irving Welsh, in the end i resorted to reading it with a Glasweigian accent in my head, which helped a lot.
Also i had to have a dictionary on hand when i read 'Great Apes' by Will Self.

Both great books btw.

I did read an American comment that reading Trainspotting was a lot like reading A Clockwork Orange, as far as the language went.
 

Nosmo King

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I did read an American comment that reading Trainspotting was a lot like reading A Clockwork Orange, as far as the language went.
Thete are a few stories around 'Trainspotting' in the US, one was an American lady complained that although 'Ken' was mentioned throughout the film she never saw him appear once, the other that Miramax had the filmed partially dubbed for its US release, two other films that fell foul of the American audience were, 'Riff Raff' starring Robert Carlyle, which had to be subtitled and 'Gregorys Girl' starring John Gordon Sinclair, which was completely redubbed using different actors.
 

GNC

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There was Scottish outrage when Bill Forsyth's first film That Sinking Feeling was released on DVD with the American dub (shudder!).
 

JaneD

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Reminds me of seeing The Pitmen Painters at the theatre in Milton Keynes. It’s set in Ashington in Northumberland which has the most fantastic ‘pitmatic’ dialect. At the start, you could see the whole audience leaning forward as one, to try and catch what they were saying. ‘Ya dee dee art?’. Marvellous
 

maximus otter

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Back in the early Seventies a mate and I went hiking in the NW Highlands. One day, on Harris, we fell in with a weegie who accompanied us for about 24 hours. Hand on heart, I genuinely don't think I understood a single word he said in that time.

A long time ago I read a book about mediaeval travel. The author mentioned an account by some merchants from London who wanted to take goods by ship to (France?). He noted that by the time the Londoners reached Kent, they and the locals could barely understand one another.

maximus otter
 

maximus otter

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In Germany, more than 1,200 new words have been created in age of COVID-19

germany-covid-36.jpg


“I can’t think of anything, at least since the Second World War, that would have changed the vocabulary as drastically and at the same time as quickly, as the corona pandemic,” said Anatol Stefanowitsch, a professor of linguistics at the Free University of Berlin.

The list of new words was compiled by the Leibniz Institute for the German Language.

Below are [some] COVID-19 neologisms in German:
  • Coronamüde (COVID-19 exhaustion)
  • Impfneid (vaccination envy)
  • Coronafrisur (corona hairstyle)
  • Kuschelkontakt (cuddle contact)
  • Abstandsbier (distance beer)
  • Glühweinstandhopping (hopping between mulled-wine stands)
  • Balkonsänger (balcony singer)
  • Todesküsschen (friendly smooch on the cheek viewed as a kiss of death)
  • Alltagsmaske (everyday mask)
  • Spuckschutzschirm (mask: spit protection umbrella)
  • Schnutenpulli (mask: snout sweater)
  • Maskentrottel (mask idiot who wears a face covering leaving the nose exposed)
  • Hamsterkauf (panic buying and stockpiling food like a hamster)
  • Mindestabstandsregelung (minimum-distance regulation)
  • Anderthalbmetergesellschaft (one-and-a-half-meter society)
  • Ausgangssperre (going-out curfew)
  • Ausgangsbeschränkung (going-out restriction)
  • Coronadiktatur (COVID-19 dictatorship)
  • Impfzwang (forced vaccination)

https://nypost.com/2021/04/23/in-ge...w-words-have-been-created-in-age-of-covid-19/

maximus otter

 
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sdoig

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Scot's as a language (and it is a language with as many differ ent words between English as between Danish and Norwegian) should actually be referred to as a form of middle English. Does this mean as a speaker of Scot's if I travelled back 500 years to England, I would understand the locals better than a modern day English an would?
 

Trevp666

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The Germans call them 'new words' but lets be straight here, they aren't really 'new words' are they, they're actually mostly compound words using existing words and smashing them together.
 

Nosmo King

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The Germans call them 'new words' but lets be straight here, they aren't really 'new words' are they, they're actually mostly compound words using existing words and smashing them together.
The Germans love a compound word
 

bugmum

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Back in my teens, I would occasionally take my great-aunt, who would come from Northampton to stay, for a walk round the village in Lincolnshire where we lived. One afternoon, whilst pausing to look at some geese in a yard, we fell into conversation with one of the old boys, Fen born and bred, who owned them. I was struggling to understand him, but my great-aunt was nodding along with the conversation, interjecting the occasional "Oh yes" and "How nice" at intervals. Eventually we said our goodbyes and started off, at which point my great-aunt turned to me and said, "I couldn't understand most of what he was saying!" Which made me laugh heartily and tell her what an excellent fraud she was.
 
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